The number "42" will be known even farther and wider because of the biopic about Jackie Robinson, the first African-American player to play Major League Baseball.
"42," written and directed tenderly by Brian Helgeland (screenwriter, "Mystic River," 2003; screenwriter of that great contemporary noir, "LA Confidential," 1997; writer-director "A Knight's Tale," 2001), tells a glowing -- literally, as Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) and many of the characters are often bathed in golden-white backlight -- inspiring and emotionally jolting story. Even if you're not a baseball fan, "42" should appeal to you -- and may turn you into a baseball fan. "Go, IronPigs!" Yes, I'm a Phillies fan.
That said, the Philadelphia Phillies, namely, manager Ben Chapman (Alan Tudyk) comes off horrendously in "42," mainly for racial taunts flung at Robinson when he was at bat in a game against the Phillies. A longtime baseball fan told me Robinson faced such treatment in nearly every city he played.
The other Pennsylvania MLB team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, also doesn't come off very well when Kirby Higbe (Brad Beyer), a Dodgers pitcher who also threw racial epithets at Robinson -- and brushed him back from the plate in spring training interleague play in Florida when Robinson was on the Dodger's Montreal AAA minor league team -- was traded to the Pirates. "Pittsburgh!" Higbe fumes,
Those who do come off well include Robinson, who is shown, in most instances, turning the other cheek when facing insults from not only opposing team players and fans, but many of his Brooklyn Dodgers' teammates.
The Christian postulate to suffer all abuses and not respond in kind is invoked by Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford), Dodgers general manager, who urges Robinson to do the right thing and not fight fire with fire, but rather concentrate on his performance on the field and win games. "God's a Methodist," intones Rickey in one of the film's many humorous asides.
It's really fun to see Robinson sidling sideways crab-like between bases to taunt the pitcher and then steal base after base. Boseman, a relatively unknown actor, has a star turn as Robinson and doesn't disappoint. He invokes a steadfast countenance, the right amount of enthusiasm and seriousness and is a compelling presence in voice, visage and body.
Rickey warms Robinson: "They're going to try to get under your skin." He hires Robinson because, Rickey says, he wants "a player who has the guts not to fight."
One is never quite certain about Rickey's motivation until late in the game. He tells colleagues he's only interested in one color: green because it's the color of money. He reasons an African-American player will bring in more African-American fans for Dodgers' games.
Harrison Ford is a hoot at Branch Rickey. He seems to be having the time of his career: grimacing, jutting his lips, drawing his mouth down in a wry angle, sporting cool mac-daddy hats and spiffy suits and sport coats. His vocal intonation is avuncular to the fullest.
Nicole Beharie as Robinson's wife Rachel, is joyful and assertive. She wonderfully conveys a sense of the true partnership that she and her husband apparently were.
In this, "42" is a love story, of Robinson and his wife, of Robinson's and Rickey's love of the game, and of America's love affair with what for many is still the nation's favorite past-time. The irony of this is, of course, that Robinson's story is happening in a cauldron of hatred directed at him and, thereby, to African-Americans, a venom that still poisons a nation to its highest office.
"42" takes place in 1947, right after the war when the United States was confirming its role as world power abroad and at home. Newsreel footage, narration, and commentary by Robinson's "Boswell," first African-American MLB sportswriter Wendell Smith (Andre Holland), and play-by-play by John C. McGinley as legendary Red Barber sets the tone.
There were 16 MLB teams, with 400 players -- all white -- until 1947 when there were 399 Caucasian players. Robinson was the sole African-American MLB baseball player.
Even so, "42" is as optimistic as the game of baseball itself. The era, the times, the American spirit, despite its imperfections (or perhaps because of them) is lovingly recreated. The cars, the vehicles (right down to the "Dem Bums" tag on the Dodgers' team bus), the clothes, the baseball fields, the architecture, the furniture -- it's all here. The production design by Richard Hoover captures this "can-do" attitude and spirit of optimism.
"42" is a delightful, glorious, wonderful film. And on April 15, each year, in a "Spartacus" moment, MLB players honor Robison by wearing his number -- the only MLB number ever to be permanently retired.
Take me out to the movies. You gotta believe.
"42" MPAA Rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13) for thematic elements including language; Genre: Biography, Drama, Sport; Run time: 2 hrs., 8 mins; Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures.
Credit Readers Anonymous: "42" Production Designer Richard Hoover is the brother of Kathy McAuley of Upper Saucon Township, a media expert and co-founder of the Lehigh Valley Film Committee, for which she's done location scouting, including bringing "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" (2009) filming to SteelStacks.
Box Office, April 19: "Oblivion," wiped out the competition, opening at No. 1, with $38.1 million, defeating "42," which dropped to No. 2, $18 million, $54 million; two weeks;
3. "The Croods," $9.5 million, $154.8 million, five weeks; 4. "Scary Movie 5," $6.2 million, $22.9 million, two weeks; 5. "G.I. Joe: Retaliation," $5.7 million, $111.2 million, four weeks; 6. "The Place Beyond the Pines, $4.7 million, $11.4 million, four weeks; 7. "Olympus Has Fallen," $4.5 million, $88.8 million, five weeks; 8. "Evil Dead," $4.1 million, $48.4 million, three weeks; 9. "Jurassic Park 3D," $4 million, $38.7 million; $396 million (2D opening 1993), three weeks; 10. "Oz the Great and Powerful," $3 million, $223.8 million, seven weeks;
Unreel, April 26:
"The Big Wedding," R: Allentown's Amanda Seyfried has her big day opposite Ben Barnes in a comedy in which a long-divorced couple fakes being married. Robert De Niro, Diane Keaton, Susan Sarandon and Katherine Heigl also star.
"Pain & Gain," R: Three body builders, played by Mark Wahlberg, Anthony Mackie and Bethlehem grad Dwayne Johnson get caught up in an extortion scheme in the comedy-thriller directed by Michael Bay.
"Mud," PG-13: Matthew McConaughey and Sam Shepard star in a drama about a fugitive given shelter.
"Any Price," R: Zac Efron, Dennis Quaid and Heather Graham star in a drama about a farm family whose father and son are tested by a crisis.
Read Paul Willistein's movie reviews at the Lehigh Valley Press web site, lehighvalleypress. com; the Times-News web site, tnonline.com. Email Paul Willistein firstname.lastname@example.org.
Three Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes